Could an overwhelming ‘no’ vote in Monday’s referendum devour Prime Minister Perry Christie’s legacy?
By ADRIAN GIBSON
ONE can rest assured that there is quite a bit of shadow boxing going on behind the scenes as the much-ballyhooed referendum date approaches.
With the referendum, Prime Minister Perry Christie has created a Frankenstein-type monster that could potentially turn and devour – if the worst happens (an overwhelming no vote) – his legacy. He has had quite the momentum in recent months—winning two electoral contests by landslide margins—and has been well on the way to augmenting his legacy. However, it seems that the hammerlock that the PLP had on the Bahamian electorate on both May 7th and October 15th is beginning to lose its hold.
Indeed, I believe that the outcome of the referendum is of strategic interest to the government. PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts’ recent comments raised many eyebrows, as he exposed their hand and expressed that the governing party desired a yes vote before hurriedly retracting—hours later—in a flip-flop that presumably was a result of Mr Christie chiding him about his earlier remarks. Roberts then said that the party has no horse in the race.
Frankly, if the referendum was a race, I would posit that the governing party does not only have a horse in the race—in fact, they own the entire stable and all the jockeys, they own the race track and, even more, could be the bookmakers. It seems far-fetched that anyone would honestly believe that the governing party has no horse in the race, considering the claim that jobs would be lost, the likelihood of extra taxes being collected and their highlighting this sector as the development of another arm of the economy.
On Monday, if the vote is yes, I have no doubt that it would be a glamorous, black-tie gala affair for the numbers operators and their greatest political, religious and everyday supporters.
PM Christie must have been enraged by the comments of Gaming Board Chairman Andre Rollins, who rightly stated that the process leading up to the referendum was “awkward and untidy.” Frankly, the Bahamian people have yet to know the intricate details concerning the referendum as there remain questions about the legislation, any regulatory framework, oversight and/or a futuristic, detailed plan that outlines the course of events—weighing out both sides of the vote. That said, Gaming Board chairman Rollins should have bitten his tongue and been ashamed to render such a statement particularly since he has input and direct oversight of the process and failed to carry-out his duty of ensuring that an effective public education campaign was conducted. This defective, non-binding referendum is just as much due to Rollins and his blithe indifference as it is to any other government official intricately involved in the process and so therefore he cannot mouth-off and lay fault at anyone’s feet without first looking in the mirror himself.
The cry for detailed information to be released relative to the referendum has seemingly fallen on deaf ears—ears into which fingers have been purposely inserted. The reality is that this gaming issue must be resolved; I’m of the opinion that Bahamians should be allowed to participate in gaming in their country but the objective reality is that it was botched in the way it was presented to the citizenry. No well-reasoned vision for the industry or common purpose has been offered to the Bahamian people!
The numbers men should take comfort that, even if the vote is no, it can be set-off as it is a non-binding referendum and the Constitutional Commission will likely bring the issue back to the fore when it discusses the prohibitive, discriminatory clause in the Constitution—article 26 (4)(e).
According to article 26 (4)(e):
“Paragraph (1) of this Article shall not apply to any law so far as that law makes provision—for authorizing the granting of licenses or certificates permitting the conduct of a lottery, the keeping of a gaming house or the carrying on of gambling in any of its forms subject to conditions which impose upon persons who are citizens of The Bahamas disabilities or restrictions to which other persons are not made subject.”
If a question arises relative to cleansing the Constitution of this clause in a later referendum—purportedly set for June or July—the governing party has more than the two-thirds majority necessary to address and vote on the issue in Parliament and the general public is likely to overwhelmingly reject the further inclusion of this discriminatory clause in a more “people-oriented” Constitution. At this point, the Parliament could pass an Act legalizing the entire gambling regime, including native casino gambling. Even now, the government can simply pass the applicable legislation but they are perhaps just too cowardly to do so!
If there is a no vote, Bahamians should know that it doesn’t count, that they weren’t even asked if they wished to “legalize” web shop operations but instead whether they wished to “regulate” it. It’s a crafty play on semantics. Look, one should just take a puff of the reality pipe and realize that the government can really just enact legislation to legalise gambling if they just had the political will to do so!
During the 2000 referendum, notable voices heard from the church included those of Anglican Archbishop Drexel Gomez and Baptist Bishop William Thompson. Noticeably, both men are muted—mums the word! Could it be that Archbishop Gomez is silent because his son is the Minister of State in the Office of the Attorney General, his brother is the Minister of Health and he is purportedly in line to become the next Governor General? Could it be that Bishop William Thompson is quiet because he is now chairman of the board of the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas (ZNS)? Whilst I may not entirely support their position, I have respect for the forthrightness of Pastor Lyall Bethel and others, who at least seem to stand for or against a selected issue regardless of the government in power.
I do not believe the proclamation of the numbers bosses that on January 29th—if there is a no vote on the 28th —that they will all shut their operations down. Hmmmm, what’s the catch? After being accustomed to making lots of money on a daily basis it seems unbelievable and unthinkable that they would just up-and-leave their cash cows behind. Frankly, Craig Flowers—the most established and most credible numbers boss—would likely be the only one to follow through on that promise, as he has a multi-pronged business portfolio and purportedly has legitimate gambling operations in Turks and Caicos, Nigeria and other parts the world. Without Flowers, I think the entire process would have lacked credence.
If there is a no vote, how is the police supposed to conduct a campaign against the number houses when many of them—and other law enforcement officers—are everyday participants? How can anyone police what can be done from the comfort of computer/laptop in one’s home, whilst on a park bench or at any wireless hotspot? Is the government going to employ Gestapo-tactics and seek to infringe upon the democratic rights and fundamental freedoms and liberties of Bahamians by shutting down internet portals and blocking websites, like communist China and Cuba? What is the crime fighting plan or is this just another farcical idea? With many, if not all, of the web shops having servers established in other countries, how could the government possibly shut them down—surely not by thinking that they could merely order heavily armed police to smash in doors, right?
Will the numbers men now resort to underground gambling operations? In China, much of the gambling is controlled by the Chinese triads and is conducted using an underground or closely guarded network of apartments where hush-hush casinos cater to criminals, rich businesspersons and the political elite. All this happens even though gambling has been outlawed on mainland China ever since the Communist Party came to power in 1949. Like China, the Bahamas’ government will find it difficult to control or curtail gambling operations, particularly with the rise of foreign-based gaming websites.
I have long lobbied for the legalisation of gambling to allow Bahamian participation. However, the entire process concerning this referendum is grossly flawed and has been mismanaged.
I’ve heard much talk about diversifying the tax structure and reducing the deficit. I’ve heard that the legalisation of web shops and a national lottery could off-set some of the government’s current expenses. However, unless fiscal policy profligacy is reigned in, unfathomable corruption and betrayal of the public’s trust is stamped out and a multi-variable economic analysis and policy formulation takes place the economic crisis we face will not be resolved. Whatever happens on Monday—after the dust settles—I believe that the government will have to make the “hard decision” and—if the vote is no—eventually facilitate the participation of Bahamians in gambling operations and games of chance. Moreover, after Monday’s opinion poll, I suspect that the masses may vote yes on the question concerning lotteries and no relative to the web shop question.